It has been over a decade since Sam Davies shot to prominence, her fourth place finish in the 2008/09 Vendee Globe, sailing’s toughest, most gruelling, single-handed race, catapaulting her into some very rarefied company.
Davies remains one of fewer than 100 sailors to have completed the non-stop, round-the-world challenge. And one of only six women.
But that is not why she is back for more. “I’m not doing it to prove that it’s possible,” she says of her 2020/21 Vendee campaign, which takes another significant leap forward on Sunday when Davies sets off from Le Havre in the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre. “I’m not doing it to prove that women can compete with men, or anything like that. Tracy [Edwards] and Florence [Arthaud] already did that. I’m doing it because I want to. Because I love it.”
Not that it is not without its complications. Now 45, Davies lives in Tregunc in Brittany with her partner, the French sailor Romain Attanasio. He, too, is entering the next Vendee Globe, which means they are both flat out planning, sailing, fundraising. Not easy when they also have an eight-year-old son. Ruben was a baby when Davies last entered the Vendee (she was dismasted while running 13th in the 2012/13). Now he is fully conscious of what his parents are doing, the risks they are taking, the time they spend away from home.
That must be hard? “It’s pretty unique,” concedes Davies. “We’re away a lot. But the racing is mostly during term time and we’re lucky to have the support of my parents. Luckily Ruben’s old enough now to really understand what we’re doing and he’s fully into it. He loves sailing. I think he’ll be a skipper, too, one day.”
He could not have much more inspiring parents. Davies, whose grandfather was a submarine commander, is not just a brilliant sailor, she studied engineering at Cambridge. The technical aspect of the challenge clearly appeals to her almost as much as the physical. She says she would love to do a full concept-to-completion campaign one day, helping to design the boat from scratch.
But having taken a break from IMOCA racing while she went and did the Volvo Ocean Race a few years ago, she needed one which was already more-or-less race ready. “I needed time and miles,” she says. “On the technical side, of course, I’m a bit jealous of guys like Alex [Thomson] with Hugo Boss. But just getting the foils fitted for my boat was a major operation. I’m happy with where we are.”
Davies will be sailing with a French sailor, Paul Meilhat, in the Transat Jacques Vabre, which follows the historic coffee trading routes between Le Havre to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.
The race is a key staging post on the road to the Vendee, with all the skippers involved next year competing. That includes other Brits such as Thomson and Pip Hare. It will be a chance for all of them to get used to their boats in a race setting, with the results expected to be spectacular.
Having two skippers allows them to push much harder. And there has been such a step-change in the technology over the last two years, particularly around the foils, that Thomson is openly predicting the 12-day record for the 4500-mile race might be broken by as much as two full days.
Davies and Meilhat will not be among those battling to lower it. Initiatives-Coeur is one of 11 older boats, with the five new-generation IMOCAs expected to be significantly quicker.
And it will be the same in 12 months’ time when Davies goes it alone in the Vendee. “In theory anything is possible,” she replies when asked whether she could become the race’s first female winner, beating Ellen MacArthur’s second place from 2000/01. “But it’s massively unlikely. I’m not as quick as the five new-generation boats. A podium is definitely achievable, though, if I sail a clean race. I proved that in 2008. Statistically, two or three of the new boats probably won’t finish.”
Davies has additional motivation to get back to Les Sables d’Olonne. Every day she is out on Initiatives-Coeur she is raising vital funds for Mecenat Chirurgie Cardiaque, which provides children from disadvantaged countries who have heart defects the opportunity to have surgery in France. “It’s something I’m really passionate about,” she says. “It takes away the selfishness of sport. And of course you do have to be selfish to be successful. But I’m doing this for a reason, which feels good.
“I never get bored of his life,” Davies adds. “I grew up inspired by Tracy Edwards. She was totally my hero. I’m a pure product of someone who was inspired by a role model. Now I want to inspire other young girls who are in the position that I was. For me there is no women’s category. We’re all just sailors.”
Sam Davies takes part in the Transat Jacques Vabre on October 27 and is a Musto ambassador www.musto.com